No matter what country you came from or what country you're headed to, first-generation immigrants have a tricky relationship with fashion. What's normal in one country is "exotic" in another. "Formalwear" in one country is "festivalwear" in another. What's worse, you can get made fun of for holding onto old traditions while non-immigrants are considered fashion-forward when they do the same thing.
Indian model Bhumika Arora understands this paradox. Hailing from northern India, Arora studied business administration in Dehli and eventually moved to the United States, when her modeling career took off. She mostly lives in jeans, T-shirts, and easy dresses today, which isn't a far departure from her preferred style in India. ("My family cherishes traditions, but I was never forced to wear anything. I mostly wore jeans or pants with a not-too-revealing top.") But traditional Indian garments are still part and parcel of her wardrobe. She schools us: "Saris aren't for young girls; lehenga is normally worn during traditional celebrations; I used to wear anarkalis for all sorts of celebrations, because I just love the style."
We caught up with Arora to talk about how she mixes Indian garments with Western-style clothes and her approach to traditional styling with a modern eye. (Hint: It involves sneakers)
Special thanks to Rahul’s Couture.
Says Arora, "I'm obsessed with bangles in general — I love the feel of them on my wrists and they are just an easy way to style up an outfit (not that this outfit needs any help)!"
Buy a few dozen at Indian-owned jewelry shops and wear them with everything from kurtis to graphic tees.
The sari is one of the more formal (and complicated) garments. "Draping a sari correctly is the most important part," says Arora. "It's a little difficult for someone to style it for the first time. Bad draping can kill the traditional feel completely and it's hard to master!" Pro tip: Call on a buddy who's done it before or spend some time on YouTube. Getting it right is worth the effort.
We're sneakers-with-gowns people. Turns out, Arora is, too: "The effortless mix of the outfit with statement sneakers is a win for me. I love a good pair of gold sneakers! It's me, because I like to dress kind of tomboyish and I very rarely wear heels when I'm not working."
The cinched waist, long vest, and slim skirt recall certain elements of sari dressing, but feel totally modern. "I love that they are all Indian designers, as well," says Arora.
This full-on sequin look is a riff off the traditional kurti combo. "Wearing kurti with pants or jeans is the most common trend," says Arora. "I think certain people have this misconception that Indian clothing is old-fashioned and very copy-and-paste. But obviously, there are so many amazing Indian designers right now and I'm really proud that they've made it in the industry so that more people can see Indian fashion in a new light."
Now...about those headdresses. Obviously, they're beautiful objects, but many of them have symbolic meanings you should be aware of before you decide wear them around. For instance, the forehead-dangling maang tikka and hooped nath nose ring are traditionally worn as part of the bridal trousseau...so it'd be as strange as wearing a white wedding veil to Coachella.
Says Arora, "I find it lovely that people love to wear Indian headpieces — I feel flattered in a way. I do love the mix of cultures here and there. But of course, only in a way that's not offensive to any culture. No cultural appropriation!"